Medicare Enrollment Periods: Timing Matters!

One of the keys to success in life is impeccable timing. When your timing is on point, your jokes will elicit uproarious laughter. But if your timing is off, your friend will be confused as to why you only just sent them a birthday present months after the fact. But it’s no laughing matter when you make a mistake with Medicare enrollment period timing. 

Medicare participants who don’t enroll during the period they should face difficulties with their benefits later on. New enrollees might experience delays in coverage or end up paying expensive penalties. Current beneficiaries might miss out on making changes to their plan. Of course, the best way to avoid issues is to keep up with the dates and types of enrollment periods. But first, you need to understand the different Medicare enrollment periods and what they mean for you. 

What are the Medicare enrollment periods?

As with all health insurance policies, there are specific times when you can sign up or make changes to your plan. Unfortunately, you can’t just enroll in Medicare at any time, and Medicare enrollment period timing is critical. There are Medicare enrollment periods associated with major life events, like turning 65 or losing employer coverage. Some happen annually. Let’s take a look at the six most common enrollment periods.

1. Initial Enrollment Period (IEP)

IEP begins three months before you turn 65 and are first eligible for Medicare. This window is open for seven months, starting with the three months before your 65th birthday, the month you turn 65, and ending with the three months after.

During this time you can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B, a standalone Medicare prescription drug plan, or a Medicare Advantage plan.

2. Annual Enrollment Period (AEP)

AEP takes place every year from October 15 to December 7. If you’re unhappy with your coverage or need to make a change, AEP is the time.

If you’re satisfied with your Medicare coverage, you don’t need to do anything. Your current plan will automatically renew and you can continue on your existing plan with no disruptions.

Missed AEP this year? Not to worry. You may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) or be able to take advantage of the General Enrollment Period in the new year.

3. General Enrollment Period (GEP)

If you don’t qualify for a SEP and didn’t use your IEP, you may be eligible for the GEP. Using this option, you can sign up for Medicare Parts A and/or B between January 1 and March 31. If you sign up during GEP, your coverage will start July 1 of that year.

Keep in mind though, you may have to pay penalties if you enroll this way. If you have questions about GEP, follow up with a Medicare insurance agent for more information.

4. Open Enrollment Period (OEP)

If you miss AEP, have Medicare Advantage, and want to change your plan, consider making the switch during OEP. This enrollment period is open from January 1 to March 31 and lets you add or remove drug plans from your coverage, as well as shift to Original Medicare if you wish.

If you missed AEP and don’t have Medicare Advantage, the process is a bit more complicated. To explore your options, reach out to a Medicare insurance agent

5. Special Enrollment Period (SEP)

A major life event or federally declared natural disaster in your area can qualify you for a Medicare SEP. This enrollment period allows you to change your plan outside the typical enrollment time frames.

Life events like moving, getting married, losing health coverage, a federally declared natural disaster in your geographic area, having a baby or adopting a child, and decreases in income may justify a SEP. Information on current SEPs is available on

6. Medicare Supplemental Plan

If you choose to sign up for Original Medicare coverage, consider purchasing Medicare Supplement Insurance, also known as Medigap. Medigap is a policy purchased from a private health insurance company that will cover some or all of the out-of-pocket expenses you’re likely to incur while enrolled in Original Medicare Parts A and B. 

Your Medigap Open Enrollment Period is the best time to purchase this type of policy. This one-time enrollment period lasts for six months and begins the first day of the month you’ve signed up for a Medicare Part B plan and are at least 65. 

If you don’t sign up during your Medigap Open Enrollment Period, you may have to pay more for a policy, have fewer policy options, or be denied a policy altogether. If you’ve been denied a Medigap policy because you don’t meet the insurance company’s underwriting requirements, check with your agent. You might qualify for a guaranteed issue rights exception.

Medicare enrollment period timing matters. For questions about when you can enroll in or change Medicare insurance plans, get in touch with us at 877.255.6273.


image credit: shutterstock/lassedesignen

Pete Blasi